What is a work order?
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What is a work order?

A work order is a document that includes all the details of maintenance tasks and outlines a process for completing those tasks.

Work orders are the driving force behind any organization’s maintenance strategy. When a manager submits a maintenance request, the entity that receives the request creates a formal paper and/or digital document. That request includes all the details of maintenance tasks and outlines a process for completing the tasks. This document is called work order. Work orders may also include information about:

  • The company handling the order
  • The location of the job
  • Any skills, tools, and/or material requirements
  • The authorizing party
  • The technician or service provider that is assigned to the task
  • Estimated cost of completion
  • Materials and labor pricing estimates
  • Expected completion date
  • Actual completion date
  • Priority level

The primary purpose of a work order is to keep all parties within the maintenance operation abreast of the workflow. When used effectively, work orders help an organization efficiently organize, communicate, and track maintenance work within a department or organization.

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Types of work orders

An organization will likely need several types of work orders to run maintenance operations. Depending on the size of the organization and the industry it operates within, some types of work orders may be more prevalent than others. A plant that manufactures hazardous chemicals, for instance, will encounter far more safety work orders than, say, an apartment complex. However, it is important to understand the eight major types of work orders an organization will handle.

  1. Corrective maintenance work order
  2. Electrical work order
  3. Emergency work order
  4. General work order
  5. Inspection work order
  6. Preventive maintenance work order
  7. Safety work order
  8. Special project work order
  • Corrective maintenance work order: As the name suggests, corrective maintenance work orders help an organization correct issues with an assessment from a technician, who finds problems during an inspection or other type of work order. Typically, these work orders involve fixing or replacing equipment or equipment parts. Corrective maintenance work orders differ from emergency work orders, in which case the equipment or asset has already failed.
  • Electrical work order: An electrical work order is a work order for repairing or installing electrical equipment, including lighting, power supplies and wiring.
  • Emergency work order: An organization issues an emergency work order when a critical asset or piece of equipment has failed and is causing production and/or safety issues. Also known as reactive maintenance work orders, emergency work orders require immediate action and therefore receive the highest priority.
  • General work order: A general work order is a work order that is used for a broad range of nonurgent services that do not fit into a more specific category, including more commonplace requests like routine pest control or painting services.
  • Inspection work order: Organizations use inspection work orders when they want to inspect organizational assets. As part of recurring and/or predictive maintenance programs, an organization orders a test (or a series of tests) to evaluate asset performance in hopes of proactively identifying anomalies, risks, and other functionality issues. 
  • Preventive maintenance work order: A work order for preventive maintenance allows an organization to schedule routine maintenance tasks to keep its assets functioning optimally and extend the lifecycle of its equipment. Preventive maintenance work orders also help organizations decrease equipment downtime, maintain regulatory compliance, and cut down on the expenses that are associated with major repairs.
  • Safety work order: Unlike other types of work orders, safety work orders exist entirely to protect people from harm or hazard. Safety work orders involve repairs that prevent injury to personnel, including issues like liquid/chemical spills and physical obstructions from property damage.
  • Special project work order: Special project work orders focus on upgrades and improvements. These work orders allow organizations to install new assets that help modernize equipment/facilities, increase productivity, and streamline existing processes.
Lifecycle of a work order

The work order management workflow describes how a work order moves through the maintenance process in a given organization, starting with maintenance task identification and wrapping up with post-completion analysis.

Phase 1. Task Identification

In the first phase of the lifecycle, a person or organization identifies the task the maintenance staff needs to complete. They will also identify whether the maintenance tasks qualify as planned maintenance. Wherein the jobs are easily identifiable ahead of time, or unplanned maintenance, where the scope and specifics of the job require an initial assessment. 

Phase 2. Work Request Submission

Once maintenance issues are identified, a manager lays out the details in a work order request form and submit the form to the maintenance department for review and approval. Work requests can arise from any number of circumstances, from tenant requests to preventive maintenance audits.  

Phase 3. Work Request Evaluation

The maintenance department (or maintenance team) is responsible for evaluating work requests once they are submitted. The department reviews the details of the work request to determine whether it can complete the work and then determines personnel and resource needs. If approved, the work order request is converted to a work order.

Phase 4. Work Order Creation

Once the maintenance team or supervisor approves the work request and allocates the materials, equipment and staff they need to complete the jobs, they create a work order. The work order includes all the necessary details of the job, as well as the company contact information and completion deadline. Maintenance should also decide how they prioritize the new work order within the overall workflow.

Phase 5. Work Order Distribution and Completion

In this phase, the team/supervisor assigns the jobs to a qualified maintenance technician who will complete the checklist of tasks on the proposed timeline. If the organization uses computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software, the job is automatically assigned to a technician.

Phase 6. Work Order Documentation and Closure

Maintenance technicians are responsible for documenting and closing a work order once all tasks are completed. Technicians should detail the amount of time they spent on each task, any materials/equipment they used, images of their work, and any notes or observations about the job.  A manager might not need to sign off on the completed work order and provide guidance about next steps.

Phase 7. Work Order Review/Analysis

Reviewing complete work orders can provide valuable insights about maintenance operations, so organizations should continually analyze them to identify opportunities for improvement in the work order process. Post-completion analysis also helps maintenance teams identify any tasks that they missed or need to revisit.

Best practices for managing work orders

How an organization manages work orders depend on several factors, including size, industry, staffing and financial resources, facility upkeep requirements, and overall approach to asset management. Nonetheless, there are some best practices that help optimize the work order management process, regardless of the environment.

  1. Establish goals and decide how you measure success. In order to find out whether the work order process is functioning optimally for your business, you must set departmental goals. And decide on the metrics that you use to measure your progress toward those goals. It is also vital to understand your KPIs, so the department knows which elements of the process need to be quantified.
  2. Standardize the work order process. The process of submitting a work request, generating new work orders, and closing existing work orders should be the same every time for everyone. Develop a work order template to ensure that formatting and components are consistent across the organization. Also be sure to clearly define roles and responsibilities so all parties know who is accountable for each step of the process.
  3. Be proactive. While it is impossible to anticipate every maintenance issue and equipment breakdown, it is important to be proactive about the elements of the maintenance process you can control. Create and adhere to a preventive maintenance schedule for assets. Use remote monitoring tools to set up automatic triggers that create and follow up on work requests on a predetermined schedule. Proactive maintenance is almost always cheaper than reactive/emergency maintenance; taking preemptive steps to keep assets in top shape help your organization reach optimal efficiency.
  4. Use CMMS or enterprise asset management (EAM) software. The easiest, most efficient way to manage work orders is to use an EAM system or CMMS software. Both offer a high-tech maintenance management software solution that automates your work order process, manage invoices and due dates, and reduce backlog and human error.


Benefits of using work order software

As an organization grows, it can become untenable to rely on paper work order systems or even spreadsheets to manage ever-evolving data needs. Larger organizations and those with more complex needs can invest in work order management software, like CMMSs or EAM systems.

In addition to basic work order creation and tracking, EAM systems and CMMSs use mobile apps and cloud-based technologies. These technologies help maintenance teams plan preventive maintenance, analyze completed jobs, visualize and report data, and optimize inventory management. Integrating a work order management system can help an organization:

Reduce costs

A high-quality CMMS or EAM will plan, create, track, and organize service requests and work orders automatically, eliminating excessive task planning duties for maintenance managers and supervisors. Using a digital work order management system also allows the organization to store large amounts of data electronically, cutting down on expenses associated with paper storage.

Increase data access

With all your work order data living in a centralized location, everyone on the management team can track work orders as they move through the workflow. CMMS/EAM platforms with accompanying software for mobile devices push access a step farther, by using push notifications and allowing team members to view and edit tasks in real time.

Expand data visibility

Work order management software enables an organization to aggregate and display work order data according to its specific needs. Maintenance teams can build and view customizable reports, and visualize trend data that helps streamline asset management and forecast preventive maintenance.

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